Thursday, August 14, 2014

On the Street…Remembering Ruth Orkin, Florence



I know I’m a bit of an overly romantic dreamer, but I took the above photo, literally, right around the corner from where this famous Ruth Orkin was taken years ago in Florence.

My young heroine was watching a street concert but, as I was shooting her, I could imagine her leaving in the direction of Cafe Gilli (location of the Ruth Orkin photo) and right into that moment (except today that moment would comprise of very well dressed men from Pitti Uomo).






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  1. Fashion Snag

    August 14, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Loved hearing your story and adore her skirt! Never a bad thing to dream.

  2. Gap

    August 14, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I love your comment n a shoot! She’s so Audrey in Roman Holiday!
    XOX, Gap

  3. Mimi

    August 14, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I see that bottom picture and all I think of is street harassment and the woman trying to float above it.

    • FrannyK

      August 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      I totally agree. Her on her own, gorgeous, but the overall photo, horrible, makes you think about the reality of Italy for women at that time.

      • Tardigrade

        August 14, 2014 at 5:04 pm

        That’s the entire point of the photograph.

      • Sunday

        August 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm

        “Some people want to use it as a symbol of harassment of women, but that’s what we’ve been fighting all these years. It’s not a symbol of harassment. It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!” Ninalee Craig, subject of “American Girl in Italy”.

        • Kparker

          August 17, 2014 at 2:19 pm

          What these two women (photographer and woman in photo) were trying to convey does not come across at all. Ninalee Craig in the photo looks afraid, Not like she is having a wonderful time. What is so disturbing about the article is that the men’s behavior is so acceptable to both women. Even if the men “did not cross the line”; visual and verbal harassment is still harassment. This is why it is still a problem and why so many women do not like to look at this photograph. Every woman knows what it feels like to walk down the street while inappropriate gestures are made at her.

          • Jo Dodds

            August 19, 2014 at 11:41 pm

            I agree too. But I think we must remind ourselves that even ten, these men’s behaviour was crossing a line. If it made a woman feel unsafe and was intended to subjectify her, it was not ok. My Grandfathers would never have behaved like this towards women.

      • Vera

        August 14, 2014 at 5:49 pm

        I absolutely agree with Mimi and FrannyK. The vulgarity of the situation captured in the photo is extremely shocking. It hits me even stronger because of the description … so many things have changed and yet so very few at the same time. Sad really.

      • berenger

        August 15, 2014 at 3:42 am

        Yes it’s an absolutely brilliant picture. Sums up how I felt as a 24 year old back packer in Rome c. 1993. Thanks for sharing Scott sharing a for introducing me Ruth, I’ll look her up.

      • Jilly

        August 19, 2014 at 3:15 am

        Uhh, I hate to say it, but that’s the reality here (in Rome) now as well.

    • Rebecca

      August 14, 2014 at 7:11 pm

      I agree, it is a beautifully composed and observed photo of a beautiful girl being harassed. It’s maybe even more shocking now than it was then, because now we can articulate it as harassment and back then we were supposed to suck it up. I received this treatment in Italy in the 90s and used to shout “You’re a child living with your mum!” at my harassers. Has it changed?

  4. supal {chevrons & Ă©clairs}

    August 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

    this, plus your narrative, are both so beautiful x

  5. Susan

    August 14, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Ruth looks as though she was running the gauntlet through that gathering of well-dressed men, while the current shot shows men and women very much at ease together. Love the ponytail!

  6. Calliope & Clio

    August 14, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Where else to be inspired if not, Florence…

  7. Liz

    August 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

    great story! love the contrast between the pics

  8. Librarian Lavender

    August 14, 2014 at 11:04 am

    What a beautiful story, I love both photos!

  9. Martin

    August 14, 2014 at 11:04 am

    What a great iconic photograph! The woman in the photograph is still going strong by the way. She’s an awesome story in herself.

  10. Lucy, Blink London

    August 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

    That Ruth Orkin shot is my style inspiration every single Summer. Love, love, love it.

  11. LesFleurs

    August 14, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Right into that moment, but without the sense of running the gauntlet while clinging onto one’s dignity;’ the narrative is everything no? Times have changed (sometimes).

  12. Stephanie

    August 14, 2014 at 11:55 am

    The location and basic players (one woman, lots of men) may be the same, but the vibe could not be more different.

    • une chatte grise

      August 15, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Indeed. In the second photo, the way that the two men closest to the woman are positioned in relation to her–one is leaning in and leering, the other standing directly in her path–is really creepy, and most of the other men are also clearly regarding her as an object to be scrutinized and assessed. In the first (recent) photo, the young woman is positioned as simply one person among many. So glad that at least some progress is being made…

      • berenger

        August 16, 2014 at 7:40 am

        According to these two moments in time… Having read Scott’s idea that putting the modern woman through this would be romantic makes me think we haven’t moved on nearly enough…

        • MacGuffin

          August 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm

          Hear, hear! There’s still so much bullshit misogyny in the fashion world.

  13. kelsey

    August 14, 2014 at 11:56 am

    beautiful! love that second image!

  14. Luca

    August 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    As an Italian I would not properly define it “harassment” … but this would trigger a long discussion.

    • Sonia

      August 15, 2014 at 5:30 am

      As a woman and one who lived in Europe, there is an open appreciation of women, such as the calling out of ‘guapa!’ in Spain that may be difficult to translate in modern day PC USA terms. I saw it as men appreciating her beauty…

      • jett

        August 15, 2014 at 12:37 pm

        Ever see a movie called “Thelma and Louise”? Great line in it–”when a woman is crying like that, she’s not having any fun.” The woman being harassed is not having any fun. Looks like the men are, but please, no excuses for them. The woman is Italian, but she is upset. If you dont see that, you need some new cultural glasses.

        • Sonia

          August 16, 2014 at 7:05 pm

          Perhaps use your glasses to read the article already linked above which explains the subject in the photo was enjoying herself.

          • jett

            August 18, 2014 at 7:38 pm

            art? In the eye of the b eholder. What the model feels inside or has convinced herself is true doesnt matter. Its a picture, from where we are in 2014, of street harassment. People who live in some countries are brainwashed into thinking they should be flattered by such b ehavior. Its not a compliment.

      • jason

        August 15, 2014 at 8:37 pm

        It’s not what people say, but how they say it. You can say almost anything if you say it right. A lot of American men just don’t focus on their charm enough to say things right.

        • jett

          August 19, 2014 at 12:39 pm

          Seriously? There are a lot of things that a man cana say to a lone woman that are not OK, not charming or accepable at all. Hope you dont think speaking to strangers on the street in a sexual or otherwise threatening way is OK if you are smiling.

      • .

        August 17, 2014 at 12:39 am

        To claim this type of ‘appreciation’ of women is acceptable because of cultural reasons is specious.
        Would it be acceptable that women should be treated differently because of a countries predominant religion, government or social structure simply because that is the ‘culture’.
        Countless examples across the world but misogyny is misogyny anywhere.

    • Emma Louise

      August 16, 2014 at 4:36 am

      You need only look at the woman’s expression to read this text as harassment.

  15. ChamaFashion

    August 14, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    I love her skirt so much!

  16. Denisa

    August 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Beautiful skirt.

  17. Noemi

    August 14, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    I love the woman’s skirt. A romantic dreamer? Sounds great and interesting!

  18. Cissy

    August 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Ruth Orkin’s poster has been hanging in my sister’s bedroom for years. She brought it back from a trip to Florence. We didn’t know who the photographer was, we loved the photo nevertheless, it made us think of our trips to Italy and how we always yearn to go back. Your post was a revelation for us today, we found out about Ruth Orkin, browsed through her photos, read her biography and watched parts of the two wonderful movies she made with her husband. Many many thanks for this post.

  19. Ruth

    August 14, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    She’s so lovely …. and nonchalant which is always stylish!

  20. all-in-the-silhouette

    August 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Wonderful post … timeless fashion on both women.

    However, I am glad some things have changed. I remember well, being in Rome as a young woman in the 70′s and how I’d have to brace myself for the kind of behavior you see in the Orkin photo. It wasn’t fun.

  21. la vie en rose

    August 14, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    I always loved that photo and was given an original, signed
    print – signed by Ruth Orkin about thirty years ago – !
    I later learned the photo she shot was staged! Didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the image.

    Thanks for the up-dated version.

  22. A

    August 14, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Are you kidding me?!? You imagined a woman walking into “that moment”–into a crowd of objectifying men who not only don’t give a rat’s ass that they are clearly making a woman very uncomfortable but actually find it wholly amusing?

    And you think this makes you a “bit of an overly romantic dreamer”? No, what it makes you is disgustingly, horribly ignorant. You are absolutely harmful in your deliberate perpetuation that street harassment is anything but awful for women.

    And with the exception of Mimi, what’s up with the rest of you colluding in this idiocy?

    • Emily

      August 14, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      Well said A – I don’t see much romanticism in a lot of men staring at and cat-calling a lone woman. A beautiful shot – that depicts harassment.
      It’s not romantic, it’s awful. It’s not a compliment, it’s awful. It’s not because she’s dressed up beautifully, it’s because men felt like, and feel like, it was their right to treat women like this.

      • berenger

        August 15, 2014 at 3:48 am

        Yes I had the exact same experience while lugging a back pack in scruffy denims looking for a Rome youth hostel. We left Rome, and Italy, pronto because of it. A shame because Italy is wonderful. I’d like to go now or later, maybe they ease up on women over 40???

        • Ingrid

          August 19, 2014 at 6:40 am

          Oh, no, fortunately appreciation for women in Italy doesn’t stop after she has reached her 40s. Depending on the women, of course.

    • SJT

      August 15, 2014 at 4:59 am

      Hear, hear. There is a continuum of this attitude from Scott Schuman on this site – that somehow it is “dreamy” and “romantic” to objectify women on the street and that it is a man’s prerogative to do so, that there is no harm in it. The harm lies in the consistent and insistent positioning and imagining of men (“I could imagine her leaving in the direction of Cafe Gilli… and right into that moment (except today that moment would comprise of very well dressed men from Pitti Uomo)”) as the ultimate judge of a woman’s appearance. Schuman may be an accomplished photographer, an accomplished thinker he is not.

    • LesFleurs

      August 15, 2014 at 5:47 am

      Objectification without empathy is an arid exercise.

    • Maggie

      August 15, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you, A. I have no idea how this bottom photo could be considered lovely to anyone but an ignorant man who has never had to deal with the frustration and discomfort (and sometimes outright fear for one’s safety) that comes from of being harassed like this on a regular basis.

      I remember my girlfriend taking a trip to Rome with her all girl’s school ninth grade class in the 80′s, and the only thing she had to say about it was that strange men followed them everywhere catcalling them the entire time. If that’s considered showing an “appreciation” of women, I’ll stick with the PC USA where it still happens but is at least recognized for what it is – harassment.

    • Tardigrade

      August 15, 2014 at 7:46 pm

      If you read Scott’s post closely and actually think about what he’s trying to say, you will find that your invective is inappropriate. He refers to the woman in the upper photo walking into the *modern-day* version of the second photo.

      From her body language, we can tell that the woman in the top photo feels in no way harassed or self-conscious in modern-day Italy. She’s quite confident and serene (even though there’s a photographer offscreen taking her picture). In the modern-day version, when she rounds the corner into a scene populated with men from the Pitti Uomo, she would presumably feel every bit as at ease as she does here.

      The two photographs, when viewed together, embody how much progress has been made in the past fifty years. This should be cause for celebration and optimism, not vitriol and name-calling.

      • Emma Louise

        August 16, 2014 at 4:40 am

        Yes, his choice makes a clear a distinct socio-historical contrast.

      • Maggie

        August 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

        Tardigrade & Emma Louise, I don’t see how you came to that conclusion from what was actually written at all. Scott simply said “Look at this glamorous woman. She is so glamorous that she could be that woman in the photo below, only the men would have been better dressed. So romantic.” If he meant to imply more than that, he was not successful. Reading more closely does not change or add to anything that he actually said, since one does not know Scott’s thoughts on the photo below to make the conclusion at which you both arrived.

        • tardigrade

          August 21, 2014 at 7:16 pm

          Even with no commentary at all, the contrast between the two photos would say an enormous amount.

          Scott is crediting you, the viewer, with enough intelligence to view the photos on your own without labeling the second photo *THIS IS BAD*.

          It’s obviously bad. It was taken by a female photographer who herself (presumably) had experienced similar harassment at some time or other. The photograph itself is a political — and feminist — statement made at a time when such statements were not commonplace. It’s a powerful enough statement that it stands on its own, without need for further commentary, as all great works of art do.

          Instead of respecting the photographer’s achievement, you’re taking the visceral reaction you feel toward the men in the photo and projecting it at the persons — Ruth and Scott — who put it out there.

          And again, the name-calling is just classless and juvenile.

  23. Tonia Rose

    August 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Such a lovely story <3 Great shots :)

  24. Susan

    August 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Amazing seeing that bottom photo. I remember seeing that photo in a restaurant I used to frequent in my early 20′s and it gave me pause and it moved me deeply, for some reason; I related to it on many levels. And then I forgot about it until now, when I’m seeing it as a woman who is almost 40. It made my heart skip a beat again. Interestingly, looking at it now I find that I cannot relate as much to it as I did back then. But it is still a beautiful photo and thank you for resurrecting this memory.

  25. Lolaparker

    August 14, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    La sensibilitĂ  fotografica di Ruth !!

  26. Suzanne Nelson

    August 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Love this post! Your photo of that stylish and inspiring girl is a beautiful tribute.

  27. Edie

    August 14, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Feel bad for her in the bottom photo…looks like she wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.

  28. CBC

    August 14, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    love this photo….

  29. Dottie

    August 14, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Second photo- Jinx Allen!

  30. justray

    August 15, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Beautifully classic, classically beautiful.

  31. Holly

    August 15, 2014 at 2:52 am

    The midi full skirt with pockets! I need that in my life!

  32. Nikki

    August 15, 2014 at 6:33 am

    Totally agree it’s stunning

  33. Carmen

    August 15, 2014 at 7:58 am

    That Ruth Orkin photo is a classic, and your echoing of its style decades later is the true spirit of art! Lovely – makes me miss Italy even more, if that’s even possible.

  34. Paula

    August 15, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Oh, boy! it´s amazing how some people don´t take into consideration cultural differences. As a woman with a Latin background I don´t see harassment in that picture at all. But I do hear a lot of self-righteousness in many comments. As is always the case when someone is smoking in a picture (and I do no smoke. I hate it, but I wont complain about seeing it in a picture).
    As a sociologist I do recommend that you take a look at statistics for crimes committed against women, and you will notice that none of these supposed chauvinist countries (such as Italy or Spain) rank as high as others with a more “politically-correct” society.
    Al this is to say that to me, a bunch of guys whistling to a women in Italy do not pose a threat to us women.
    This is just my opinion on this matter.

    • Ingrid

      August 17, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      I’m with you, Paula. When I lived in Rome I had to get used to it at first, but now being back in The Netherlands I actually miss the daily attention, which -granted- could be annoying at times, but mostly was a lovely part of my Italian years. For many people it’s very difficult to travel and try to see things in perspective. It really isn’t as bad as you think!

    • Rachel

      August 19, 2014 at 1:52 am

      In response to Paula, as a criminologist, I would suggest that in the “supposed chauvinist countries (such as Italy or Spain)” there is a culture of not reporting behaviours such as these, which accounts for differences in statistics of crimes committed against women. There is also a culture of police not recording complaints of this nature.

      • Jen

        August 19, 2014 at 10:21 pm

        Yes. Until this was called street harassment, it was accepted in the U.S., and it was considered a compliment, altho I never felt that way. Now we call it for what it is. Another such action would be sexual harassment at work. It used to be just your problem if you didnt like male co-workers placing their hands on you, making crude remarks and even having pin up posters. Now that it has a name, action can be taken.

      • Barcelence

        August 29, 2014 at 9:24 pm


  35. Valerie

    August 15, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I just realized – I bought a version of her sandals in Florence!! I had been lost all morning and came upon a tiny leather shoe shop that was closed for the day, saw those sandals in the window and was so drawn to them. I ended up spending the next day re-tracing my steps to find the shop open, where I bought them and rocked them for the rest of my solo trip through Europe. Interestingly, I got more attention from Spanish guys in Barcelona than in Italy. Yes, objectification is real and it is very uncomfortable and sometimes scary when traveling alone, but it is the way things are until there is a change in attitude toward respecting women. Attitudes change slowly as lessons are passed from generation to generation. At least these days you can roll your eyes at a guy and tell ‘em to eff off.

  36. Susana

    August 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Beauty and grace flow from one era to another in this post… I enjoyed your story and both pictures. The “soul” in both of them is quite similar. Really pretty…

  37. Emma Louise

    August 16, 2014 at 4:33 am

    I find the historical picture completely sinister – the female does not look flattered, she looks scared and uncomfortable. The men are leering and intimidating, with no care for how their behaviour is visibly affecting the her.

    A total contrast to the contemporary picture.

  38. jane

    August 16, 2014 at 4:47 am

    I think your Astor Place shot echoes the Orkin more not quite as predatory as the Orkin shot which I’ve always found slightly threatening

  39. Mary Binding

    August 17, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I love that you think about the storey. It add so much to the images.

  40. Cristina

    August 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I know the guy on the right!!

  41. Belinda Gomez-Ortega

    August 17, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Ruth posed the model in the photo–it’s not photojournalism. Those poster who see harassment may want to get out more.

  42. ClothesWhorse

    August 18, 2014 at 1:51 am

    All over full skirts right now. Vintage, feminine, ladylike yet the movement of the fabric is so flirtatious and sexy.

  43. soso

    August 18, 2014 at 4:32 am

    cultural facts : as a french girl I feel comfortable in Italy, not harassed. When I was living in USA (few months), I miss that men look, it seems that american boys need to be drunk to look at women, and that, you can call it harassment !

  44. marcbe

    August 18, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    I loved your blog. <3

  45. sandyy

    August 19, 2014 at 3:58 am

    Love the attitude of the ballerina, and love her skirt…she is elegant and sexy!

  46. Eddie

    August 20, 2014 at 9:24 am

    I met you a year ago during Milano Fashion Week. At that time, you were busy at photo shooting. I said :Hey Scott, I like you so much! U replied: Thanx! And then you went back to work. I have captured a pic of you, and posted on my instagram. If you ask y I like you so? I think it’s the romance in your deep heart through all the fabulous pics you have taken. :)

  47. Geraldine

    August 21, 2014 at 2:49 am

    The man driving the vespa was Carlo Marchi, One of the most charming man of Florence

  48. Viola

    August 21, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Sure- that woman may have been having a great time, if thats how she wants to see it- but those men were harassing her.
    Surprises me that Scott glossed right over that in his note. What, it is acceptable because it’s a beautiful shot? You have romanticized feelings about a street harassment photo? Ew.

  49. Ali

    August 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    To put the Ruth Orkin photo in context, she and Jinx Allen, the model, were spending the day taking photos. Orkin noticed that Allen got some attention walking past that corner, and asked her to do it again. The men were told to ignore the camera. According to Allen, the reality wasn’t actually sinister.
    “Jinx” herself gave me a great book on the other photos Orkin took of her that day. They’re super. She was larking about doing all kinds of kooky stuff, and clearly having a blast. Quite a few of the scenarios they shot play on what a tourist might do in Italy: shop at the market, go to a cafĂ©, ride a bike, look at art. Presumably, this is one such “what might happen” shot, but its tone is very different from that of the other photographs.
    Orkin and Allen were a couple of solo budget travelers who met up in Florence and used their talent and joie de vivre to create some fantastic photos. In early 50s Italy I think there’s something pretty liberated about that!

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